Researcher accuses church of blocking abuse inquiry
The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has come under fire for cancelling a major investigation into clerical abuse dating back to 1945 after being told it could not veto the inquiry’s findings.
The inquiry investigation, announced in 2011 in response to abuse revelations, was headed by leading German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer.
Yesterday Mr Pfeiffer said the contract between the church and his Lower Saxony Criminological Research Unit (KFN) was to be cancelled after bishops demanded retrospective changes to the signed agreement allowing them to veto findings. “We told them that wasn’t on and contradicted the idea of academic independence,” said Mr Pfeiffer. “They also demanded the right to have influence over the employment of KFN .”
After a promising start, he claimed that Munich bishops and a conservative priests’ organisation had launched a campaign “in the direction of censorship” against the research. They reportedly refused to open their archives to his sanctioned research or to respond to allegations that they had destroyed files relating to abuse.
Mr Pfeiffer said he was not told of an internal church rule to destroy after a decade files relating to priests convicted of abuse, a policy he said called into question the publicised goal to investigate abuse allegations back to 1945.
Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, church commissioner on abuse issues, disputed these claims and said it was Mr Pfeiffer who attempted to reinterpret the research conditions after signing the contract with the church. The co-operation had collapsed, he said, because the investigator was not prepared to balance research concerns with the protection of victim identities.
Church officials have denied allegations it had destroyed files or tried to censor research.
“It was not about trying to keep things back,” said Bishop Ackermann. “But trust is vital for such an extensive project dealing with such a sensitive issue and the mutual trust . . . has been undermined.” He said the church was seeking a new partner to continue the research. The controversy is a setback two years after first reports of systematic clerical abuse at Catholic schools.
After a preliminary investigation, the church apologised to victims in March 2010 and offered payments of €5,000.